Intuitive Fasting For Women
Women may benefit from an intermittent fasting approach that is known as intuitive fasting.
Intuitive fasting avoids fasting times that are too long and helps you learn which schedule is right for you. Itâs very simple:
- You wait to eat until you are clearly hungry
- You then eat until full
- You wait again until youâre hungry
With time, your body gets used to this way of eating, and youâll notice that you can increase the time between meals without getting too hungry.
Can I Exercise When Intermittent Fasting
This is a definite yes. Some will choose to exercise on non-fasting days if they are doing the Alternate Days Method. Others will work out during a fast because of the benefits of building lean muscle mass. Ideally, the best time to exercise is according to how you feel and what you are used to. Personally, I almost always work out during my fast.
Intermittent Fasting And Your Period
Even with some potential downfalls, a few studies have shown benefits between fasting and the menstrual cycle, especially for women with PCOS.
A small study that followed 15 women with PCOS over six weeks found that fasting for 16 hours significantly improved body weight and other markers of insulin resistance and inflammation. While it was only a small study, it’s worth noting that the authors noted that more than 70 percent of the women had improvements in their menstrual cycles.
However, another review found evidence that longer fasts increased cycle lengths in overweight or obese women. Three days of fasting also affected luteinizing hormone dynamics for women with regular menstrual cycles. This study concluded that while none of these changes were dramatic, more research is needed to understand exactly how caloric restriction during fasting impacts women’s hormones.
Needless to say, the science behind fasting and your period is inconclusive and depends on many factors, but overdoing it with longer fasts or extensive calorie restriction may not be ideal for hormone balance.
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What Is Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating that alternates periods of fasting with set windows of eating. Unlike a typical diet, IF emphasizes the timing of your meals instead of what or how much you eat. It’s not that food quality doesn’t matter, but it’s not the primary focus.
Fasting means abstaining from anything with calories. Water, herbal tea, and black coffee are okay because they don’t contain calories . But anything with calories is off-limits.
While intermittent fasting seems to be the talk of all wellness circles, fasting itself is not new. It’s been an essential part of spirituality and religion for thousands of years. Fasting has also been a part of the wellness world for a long time, but it’s only relatively recently that it’s become so mainstream.
Part of why it’s so popular is that IF can be tweaked to work with your lifestyle. There’s no one right way to do it, and in fact, there are many different ways to practice intermittent fasting . It also may feel less restrictive than a typical calorie-controlled diet.
Intermittent fasting experts suggest that part of the reason that fasting is so beneficial is that it works with our natural physiology. IF proponents argue that we are evolutionarily designed to go for extended periods without food, although this is still debated.
Intermittent Fasting Schedules
As an aside, I’m not necessarily promoting any of these as its a very individualized approach, but they are the ones you are most likely to hear about:
Supports Cellular Renewal And Repair
Research has shown that fasting supports the process of autophagy. During autophagy, your body breaks down and destroys old, damaged, and abnormal cells and recycles them for energy. This cellular spring cleaning leaves room for your body to create new and healthy cells. It also supports cellular repair and regeneration, reduces the development of abnormal cell growth, and keeps your cells and tissues healthy.
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Intermittent Fasting For Women Requires An Individualized Approach
Should you try intermittent fasting? It really depends.
Intermittent fasting has a lot of compelling, valid research behind it, but the data on women is mixed. Until we see more studies that specifically examine women in various phases of life, it’s impossible to say that it’s a good idea for all women.
That said, there are ways to make it safer and still see many of the benefits. Start with shorter fasts and keep fasting to no longer than 16 hours. Alternating days or only fasting a few days a week may also be a good idea, especially if fasting is brand new for you.
Pay close attention to how you feel, including mood, sleep, and cravings, as these are all indications that your current plan may be putting too much stress on the body. And, of course, if you notice any changes in your menstrual cycle, it’s an indicator that your body is out of balance.
If you are considering fasting for hormonal support, it’s worth trying to optimize hormone balance through a nutrient-dense meal plan like the one I offer in my free hormone starter kit. You can even follow these meals during your eating window if you choose to IF to make sure you are making choices to optimize your hormones at mealtime.
Intermittent Fasting And Hypothyroidism
Fasting impacts the thyroid directly due to its effects on hormone production. Some studies have shown that fasting reduces the production of T3 hormones. Since intermittent fasting changes the way your body uses up energy, you may experience improved metabolic activity if you are a person with hypothyroidism. In addition, some women have also experienced improvement in the functioning of their medication for hypothyroidism as well as lowered rates of inflammation.
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Keto And Stem Cells When Fasting
When you enjoy a keto feast at the end of a fasted period, you are fertilizing the vast crop of new cells with fatthe healthiest, most potent fuel available.
When you combine IF with keto, youre getting rid of tons of damaged cellsespecially those damaged from the bonding of sugar molecules in the destructive process called glycation. At the same time, your body is erupting with fresh, fat-fueled cells!
Lab tests on mice show fasting to result in major reductions in the incidence of lymphomas and tumors. The mechanism at work here is the decrease in glucose and insulinif youre not eating sugar, your body isnt producing insulin.
Fasting along with keto starves cancer cells that rely on sugar while promoting short-term atrophy and cell death in a wide range of tissues and organs including the liver and kidneys.
This controlled atrophy and cell that occurs during IF triggers a period of cellular growth and proliferation. Replenishing these growing cells is crucial. But, and this is a big BUT, if you eat high carb, and other cancer-causing molecules when feasting at the end of a period of fasting, studies show that you actually increase cancerous activities and pre-cancerous lesions especially in the liver and intestines.
A high-fat low-carb diet is not only the best way to get the greatest health benefits out of IF, its also the best way to protect yourself against the possibility of doing your body harm.
Intermittent Fasting And Reproductive Hormones
One way fasting affects reproductive hormonesin both women and menhas to do with something called the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. Thankfully, this is more commonly known as the HPG axis.
Its not important to know exactly how the HPG axis works, but in case youre interested, heres what happens:
In women, LH and FSH stimulate the production of estrogen and progesterone, which we need to release a mature egg and to support a pregnancy.
In men, they stimulate the production of testosterone and sperm.
Because this chain of reactions happens on a very specific, regular cycle in women, GnRH pulses must be timed precisely, or everything can get out of whack. Eggs arent released, periods stop MAYHEM!
Heres the big takeaway: GnRH pulses seem to be very sensitive to environmental factors, and can be thrown off by fasting.
Even short-term fastingsay, three dayscan alter these hormonal pulses in some women.
Theres even some evidence that missing a single mealwhich, of course, isnt an emergency by itselfcan start to put our hormonal system on alert.2
This may be why certain women run into problems with intermittent fasting.
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Help With Cancer Treatments
Scientists are currently studying the effects that intermittent fasting might have alongside cancer treatments on different types of cancer.
Studies are in their early stages, but some researchers believe that fasting may improve the effects of cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, and reduce their negative side effects.
Women May Be More Sensitive To Changes In Nutrient Balance Than Men
Men and women seem to respond differently when fasting or significantly restricting calories. This may be due to kisspeptin, a protein-like molecule thats essential in the reproductive process.
Kisspeptin stimulates GnRH production in both sexes, and we know its very sensitive to leptin, insulin, and ghrelinhormones that regulate and react to feelings of hunger and fullness.9 10
Interestingly, females have more kisspeptin than males. More kisspeptin may mean that womens bodies are more sensitive to changes in energy balance.11
Compared to men, fasting more readily causes womens kisspeptin production to dip. When kisspeptin drops, it tosses GnRH off kilter12, which upsets the whole monthly hormonal cycle.
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How To Intermittent Fast Safely
As described above, there are many types of intermittent fasting with different options that can fit any schedule or lifestyle. Its best to experiment and find the one that works best based on your individual needs.
For beginners, the easiest starting point is the intermittent fasting 16/8 method, a form of time-restricted eating. This typically just involves skipping your evening snack after dinner and skipping breakfast the next morning as well.
If you dont eat anything between 8 p.m. and 12 p.m. the next day, for instance, youve already fasted for 16 hours.
If 16 hours of fasting feels too daunting at first, begin with a shorter fast lasting about 13 to 14 hours. Increase how long you fast as your body gets accustomed to it.
While the 16/8 method has been shown to be generally safe for most people, longer fasts ranging from 14 to 72 hours may not be safe for everyone. It also takes your body time to adjust to the effects of fasting, so dont push yourself too hard at first.
How much weight can you safely lose in a month with intermittent fasting?
Its reasonable to expect to lose about 0.5 to two pounds per week . The bigger your body mass when you start fasting, the likelier it is that youll lose weight more quickly.
Keep in mind that intermittent fasting should be viewed as a change in lifestyle rather than a diet. Be sure to focus on filling your diet with healthy whole foods during the days that you do eat to squeeze as many nutrients as possible into your day.
Does Intermittent Fasting Make You Want To Eat More
You may feel like you are famished when you get to your eating window, but as long as you eat healthy food and keep your calorie count around 1200-1500 per day, you will soon get used to eating less. An excellent way to make sure that you eat what you should when you have an eating window is to meal prep. Spend an afternoon and prepare your meals for the week. Everything you need to eat clean will be ready and waiting in the fridge.
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Intermittent Fasting In Aging Women
Puberty, periods, maybe pregnancy and postpartum. What a rollercoaster.
Then comes menopause, another hormonal transition point in womens lives that can stir us up physically, psychologically, and socially.
Women in this phase may be returning to themselves after decades of being devoted to children, spouses, and careers. Or, they may be busier than ever, taking care of aging parents and young adult kids.
Whatever the context, increasing age often triggers a desire to focus on health.
Some women become interested in intermittent fasting because of its association with longevity. Others just want to lose fat in an uncomplicated way.
While we dont have quality science on whether or not intermittent fasting is beneficial to women who are menopausal or post-menopausal, we do know that restricting food is also a stressor.
Women who worry about limiting food intake to manage body weight tend to have higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, than women who dont.24 Add that to the sleep disruptions so common in menopause, and your stress bucket is getting pretty full.
Lower estrogen levels also means your body has a decreased capacity to deal with stress. That bucket fills up quicker than it used to.
Even though many stressors are good for uslike exercise, learning, and changethey only make us stronger if we give ourselves the chance to recover from them.
So, if youre a woman in this hormonal phase, try intermittent fasting only if:
Fastient Allows You To Track All Your Nutritional Goals In One Place
If you want to track your fasting times and monitor your diet, Fastient is one of the more comprehensive tracking apps available. It allows users to maintain a record of their food intake in addition to tracking their fasting windows. We love this feature for keto because it helps to ensure that youre getting all of the nutrients you need during your feeding windows.
Fastient has a clean, simple interface for simple data entry, and users appreciate the easy-to-read graphs for simple, straightforward progress monitoring. If you need to adjust your fasting plan based on these results, thats easy to do too.
Need a little push? We got you. !
Jenna has a Bachelors Degree from Lycoming College and her Masters from Penn State, holding 3 years of writing experience between a variety of publications and HipKeto.
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How Does Intermittent Fasting Affect Your Hormone Balance
Now it’s time to jump into why intermittent fasting may not be as effective for women. Or why women may need to tweak the schedule a bit to see the same benefits.
Surprise it’s because of our hormones!
Many of the supposed metabolic benefits from fasting are due to how your body adapts to perceived stress. We often think of stress as only a negative thing, but some short-term stress can actually be good for us.
A great example is seen with exercise. When you lift weights, you put stress on your muscles, which in turn helps you get stronger. Fasting is similar. It’s a type of stress that forces your body to use alternative fuel sources and move into autophagy to respond to nutrient scarcity.
But the female reproductive system is especially sensitive to stress. So much so that the hypothalamus will turn down the production of your reproductive hormones necessary for ovulation and menstruation when under stress.
Stress includes calorie and food restriction, and your hormones are very sensitive to how much food you put into your body. So if you regularly participate in extended fasts or one of the more restrictive patterns above, you may be overly stressing your body out and negatively impacting your hormone balance.
How and why does this happen? Gonadotropin-releasing hormone , which stimulates the release of luteinizing hormone and follicular stimulating hormone from your pituitary gland, is sensitive to stress, including fasting, even the short-term fasts.
Intermittent Fasting And Your Libido
Once again , the research is lacking on women, libido, and intermittent fasting. A study on men who fasted during Ramadan found fasting decreased their sexual desire and frequency of sexual activity, but studies on women are sparse.
Since fasting can impact hormone balance and potentially decrease estrogen, it could negatively affect sexual desire, but no studies expressly point to this. Fasting could also negatively impact your energy or mood if taken too far, which can decrease your desire to have sex.
On the other hand, if fasting works for you and you feel healthy or notice positive physical changes in your body, then it could help with libido. Weight and confidence in our bodies directly impact sexual desire, something backed by research, but also most of us have experienced first-hand. So for women who do well with fasting, a welcomed side effect could be improved libido.
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What Are You Allowed To Eat On A Clean Intermittent Fast
Even though your main focus would be on when to fast and when to eat, its still important to ensure you follow a clean and healthy diet throughout the week for your own betterment.
Technically, there are no restrictions on what you can eat, but its always a good idea to follow a balanced diet that can help you sustain with enough energy and nutrition on a day-to-day basis.
With all that aside, lets now look at the intermittent fasting apps.
Fasting For 2 Days A Week
People following the 5:2 diet eat standard amounts of healthful food for 5 days and reduce calorie intake on the other 2 days.
During the 2 fasting days, men generally consume 600 calories and women 500 calories.
Typically, people separate their fasting days in the week. For example, they may fast on a Monday and Thursday and eat normally on the other days. There should be at least 1 non-fasting day between fasting days.
There is limited research on the 5:2 diet, which is also known as the Fast diet. A involving 107 overweight or obese women found that restricting calories twice weekly and continuous calorie restriction both led to similar weight loss.
The study also found that this diet reduced insulin levels and improved insulin sensitivity among participants.
A small-scale study looked at the effects of this fasting style in 23 overweight women. Over the course of one menstrual cycle, the women lost 4.8 percent of their body weight and 8.0 percent of their total body fat. However, these measurements returned to normal for most of the women after 5 days of normal eating.
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